According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, gymnastics has one of the highest injury rates of any girls’ sport. Nearly 100,000 young gymnasts are injured every year. Many of these injuries are minor, but some can be quite serious. Here is what you should know about the most common gymnastics injuries.
Why Are Injury Rates So High?
Gymnastics puts tremendous pressure on young athletes. Female gymnasts in particular must be small, lean, and incredibly powerful. In the past 50 years, the sport has evolved so that girls must now start young, spend more time in the gym, and perform ever more difficult and dangerous skills. Gymnasts engage every part of their bodies, and they work tirelessly to appear elegant and graceful while performing their routine.
Most Common Gymnastics Injuries
Bruises, scrapes, and “rips” that involve losing skin from the hands while working on bar routines are inevitable. These injuries are typically minor, do not result in much if any lost training time, and respond well to basic home care.
Very serious, life-threatening gymnastics injuries are, thankfully relatively rare. Gymnasts are taught to fall in ways that protect the head and spine, so things have to go catastrophically wrong for gymnasts’ lives to be at risk. Still, some serious, though not life-threatening, injuries are fairly common:
- Achilles tendon strains or tears
- ACL tears
- Ankle sprains
- Burners and stingers in the neck and shoulders
- Cartilage damage
- Finger and hand injuries
- Knee and low back pain
- Shoulder instability
- Spinal fractures and herniated discs
- Wrist fractures
Common Causes of Gymnastics Injuries
Gymnastics injuries can be caused by many factors. These include, but are not limited to:
- Awkward landings
- Balance issues
- Insufficient flexibility
- Poor strength in the core, arms, or legs
- Repetitive motion
- Imbalance in strength or flexibility between the two sides of the body
- Improper warmup
Preventing Gymnastics Injuries
Although it is impossible to prevent all gymnastics injuries, it is possible to reduce both the risk and the likely severity of injuries. Strength and flexibility training, carefully balanced between both sides of the body, can go a long way toward keeping a gymnast from developing issues based on imbalance. Core strength training is also essential, as the core forms a strong base to hold the gymnast aligned as the arms and legs move in different directions.
Strict equipment maintenance and safety procedures are also crucial. Gymnasts should practice new skills with spotters, over a foam pit or other safe landing area, until they are entirely confident with the skill. Gymnasts and coaches should maintain excellent open lines of communication, and gymnasts should never feel forced to perform skills that are beyond their ability level.
Mental training is also vital. Gymnasts are often seen as fearless, but “balking,” or stopping halfway through a skill, is not uncommon. Gymnasts need to be taught how to safely withdraw mid-skill if needed, as well as how to maintain focus under the pressures of learning and competing new skills. Gymnasts also tend to be perfectionists, naturally inclined to repeat skills over and over again for hours at a time. They need to be taught when to take rest breaks to avoid overuse injuries.
Physical Therapy for Gymnasts
Physical therapy can be an important part of a gymnast’s life. A physical therapy assessment can help to identify and correct underlying issues such as muscle imbalances or flexibility concerns before an injury occurs.
After an injury, gymnasts are typically in a rush to get back to the gym. Yet the body has been traumatized, and proper healing is essential to avoid reinjury. After medical treatment is concluded, physical therapy can provide a specific, targeted path to regain strength and flexibility while reducing the risk of future injuries.
Ready to Get Started?
If you are ready to start your physical therapy journey with a team you can trust, contact Raritan Physical Therapy at (732) 662-4400 to schedule your appointment.